The board shall operate, regulate, control and be fully responsible for the management of the whole university system.
- Florida Constitution
A walk down memory lane, if you please.
Remember that under our former governor, Jeb Bush, our Legislature abolished our state university system.
Abolished it! Each university would have its own local board, with all the members hand-picked by Gov. You-Know-Who.
This did not sit well. In 2002, the voters passed an amendment to our state Constitution that re-created a state system, under a Board of Governors.
Well, you know how much the Legislature likes being told what to do by the voters. (Not much.)
So the Legislature turned right around and passed its own law that "implemented" what the voters had done.
Among other things, this law said that the Legislature would be in charge of setting university tuition and fees.
Now a group of Floridians led by former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham has sued, seeking to have the Legislature's law thrown out as unconstitutional.
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Make no mistake: The universities are fighting for the power to set tuition higher than the Legislature wants. So if your concern is having the cheapest tuition possible, this is bad news.
There are a couple of reasons the Legislature wants low tuition. One is pure political posturing.
As the Senate president puts it, "We are going to fight to make sure the American dream of higher education is affordable for all students."
The second reason has to do with future budgets. The Legislature has promised the people of Florida their kids can go to college, either through the Bright Futures scholarship or the prepaid tuition program.
So the Legislature has a strong budgetary motive for keeping things the way they are.
Also make no mistake, Florida's universities are desperate. They are freezing enrollment and admissions. Florida already ranks at or near the bottom in both state spending and tuition. We are awful cheapskates in Florida.
I would cheerfully side with the Legislature if the universities were constitutionally wrong. The legislative power is a sacred thing; I would not lightly fork it over.
But the voters of this state intended, by a strong majority, for a Board of Governors to run the university system, and they passed an amendment with crystal-clear language.
The Legislature clings to its power as a baby grasps his binky. There is no policy reason to fight this lawsuit, only a primal reluctance to yield.
House Speaker Marco Rubio and Senate President Ken Pruitt should hold a joint announcement saying, "You know what? We have decided the universities are right."
Then they could get back to fixing the insurance and property tax problems in Florida, and all that other good stuff that the Legislature does.
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